TASHKENT TRAVEL TIPS & THINGS TO DO
Tashkent is the largest and most populated city in all of Central Asia! Travelers often overlook it on trips to Uzbekistan in favor of the more famous stops along the Great Silk Road and while we agree it may not be as atmospheric as the others, it’s a surprisingly nice cosmopolitan city. Soviets designed the modern incarnation of the capital and filled it with pleasant parks, tree-lined streets, large squares, and museums. There may not be much in the way of nightlife, but there’s enough to keep a curious traveler entertained for a day or two…
Tashkent is over 2,200 years old, although you’d hardly know it because it looks so polished and state-of-the-art. Looking back, Genghis Khan and the Mongols ransacked the place in the early 13th century and it was subsequently ruled by the Timurid Empire. After being rebuilt it became an economic hub for caravans along the Silk Road up until 1865 when it fell to the Russian Empire.
In April of 1966, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of the old city, leaving up to 300,000 people homeless. It was rebuilt with help from the Soviets, although many of the ancient historical structures noting its location along the Silk Road collapsed and were lost to history forever. It now stands as the capital of independent Uzbekistan, a modern city with a multi-ethnic population experiencing significant transformations heading into the future.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Bring plenty of cash, preferably clean crisp $100 USD notes! You can exchange your money at exchange machines located around the city, as well as some banks and hotels. We recommend changing money upon arrival at a little white booth near the baggage claim area that offered a good exchange rate.
We were under the impression that ATMs were plentiful, but this wasn’t our experience. Most ATMs were either out of order or only took the card we didn’t have. The only reliable ATM we found was inside the Hyatt Regency. You’ll first take out cash in USD, and then there is a money exchange counter within the same customer service office that can exchange it to som. In restaurants, tipping isn’t customary and if you do tip they’ll be surprised or might not even accept it.
How long to stay in Tashkent: 1-2 days
One or two days should be enough. It’s not a city overloaded with attractions, but we wouldn’t recommend skipping it altogether either. Depending on where you’re coming from, you might have some jet lag anyway, so between getting some rest, you can explore a bit.
GETTING IN AND OUT
Aeroflot, Air Astana, Air Baltic, Asiana, Uzbekistan Airways and Turkish Airlines all fly into Tashkent International Airport. This is actually the hub for Uzbekistan Airways, and they have a growing list of international destinations they fly to direct. Uzbekistan Airlines is also the airlines you would take to fly domestically, however, the only destination where flying would be necessary is to Urgench, which connects you to Khiva. This is an hour and a half flight and costs around $50 USD.
When flying out of Tashkent be sure to tell your taxi driver exactly where you’re going. The domestic (Terminal 3) and international terminal (Terminal 2) are separated by a 10-minute taxi ride. If you find yourself at the wrong terminal the taxi shouldn’t cost more than 5,000 som, but again, be sure to bargain.
To and from the airport: Tashkent International Airport is only a few kilometers from the city center. It should only cost 20-30,000 som ($2-3), but it’s likely you’ll have to do some haggling.
Trains connect several international destinations to Tashkent. For more info see this post on Seat 61.
Tashkent has two train stations: North and South. The northern station is the main terminal for all services to or from Tashkent and is easily reached by taxi or metro (Toshkent station on the blue line). Make sure to double-check what station you’re leaving from! We missed one of our trains…
Buying tickets for travel in Uzbekistan
There are three primary options for train travel: the Spanish designed Afrosiyob bullet train, the slower Soviet Sharq train, and the night train. In our experience, tickets for the Afrosiyob train sell out in advance because of tour groups, so be sure to book ahead online during peak seasons! *There is not Afrosiyob service to Khiva yet (summer 2019).
You can book tickets online through the Uzbek Railways website, although some people complain that the site is confusing and buggy, or through a reliable Uzbek travel agency, but understand that you’ll pay a commission fee.
If you’re taking the Sharq train or night train, tickets are easier to come by, but should still be booked in advance whether at the train station, online or through your accommodation. The cheapest way is to do it yourself at the train station. Keep in mind that your passport is required for the purchase of tickets.
Samarkand: The fast train will get you to Samarkand in two hours, and will cost around 200,000 som ($23.50). The slow train takes about four hours and will cost around 70,000 som ($8.20).
Bukhara: There are two daily Afrosiyob trains, one Sharq train, and one night train to Bukhara. The fast Afrosiyob train takes around four hours and the Sharq train takes six hours.
Urgench/Khiva: Urgench, a 30-minute drive from Khiva, is only linked to Tashkent via the night train. There are four different options in price, comfort, and privacy. The SV/Lyux is a 2-berth wagon, kupe is a 4-berth wagon, platzkart is an open wagon, and obshye is just a seat. It’s a 16 hour journey and costs around 150,000 som ($17.50) depending on which class you choose.
For more in-depth train info see this Advantour page.
By shared taxi
We only recommend using a shared taxi to and from Samarkand. It takes four hours and costs around 80,000 som ($8).
GETTING AROUND TASHKENT
Tashkent is a bigger city, so while some sites might be walkable, you’ll probably want to take taxis, shared cars, or use the metro for longer distances.
Taxis and shared cars
There are both official taxis and shared cars. They are both easy to find and are very cheap. For reference, it costs 20k som ($3) to get across town. Most rides will be 10k som or less. Taxis typically don’t use meters so agree to the price before you get in. In our experience, most drivers are honest and not trying to rip you off.
You can catch a private shared car anywhere in the city. If you wait on the side of the road for five minutes cars will stop and ask where you’re going. At first, this was a little awkward, but it’s completely normal here.
The maps.me app is really helpful in Tashkent and worth downloading before you arrive. Most drivers don’t speak English so it’s useful for navigating. It usually lists both the English and Russian names so you can look up where you’re going and show your taxi driver the name in Russian. Otherwise, the best thing to do is name the nearest landmark to your destination. You can also download the Yandex taxi app, which is essentially the Russian version of Uber. Here are the links for both iPhone and Android.
Tashkent’s subway system is the most inexpensive way to get around the city. The metro has three lines (green, blue, and red) and a ticket only costs 1200 som ($0.10)!
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN TASHKENT
Buy bread from baby carriages at Chigatay Bazaar
Stop by this market for some of the best bread you’ll eat in Uzbekistan. Local women sell the loaves from baby carriages. If that’s not the most adorable thing ever, what is? Stop by, they’ll be happy to see you! Chigatay cemetery is across the street that you can walk through if you’re curious to see how Uzbeks remember their loved ones.
Roam through the backstreets of old Tashkent
Stroll through the mahallas of Tashkent for a glimpse into what this city used to be like. Wandering around the neighborhoods of old Tashkent was one of the more interesting things we did in the capital. Most of these mud and adobe homes have been replaced or were destroyed during the earthquake in 1966. However, there are small areas that still exist, so go explore them before they’re gone forever. One of the remaining areas is near the Chigatay Bazaar, you can find it on the map at the end of this post.
See what is believed to be the world’s oldest Quran at the Hazrati Imam complex
Known locally as the Khast Imam this has been the spiritual center of Tashkent for hundreds of years. Distinguished by two minarets 50m (164 ft), the front of the complex contains the Hazrati Imam Mosque with a beautiful mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and two ornately decorated domes.
The Barak Khan Madrasa across the main square was originally built in the 16th century. No longer used for educational purposes, now it’s mostly filled with souvenir shops that sell musical instruments, knick-knacks, and paintings.
The biggest draw for visiting this area is to go inside the small Muyi Mubarak library. Behind its doors lies the Samarkand Kufic Quran, which they claim to be the oldest remaining one in the world. It’s stained with the blood of the third Caliph Uthman who was murdered while reading it in the year 655 AD. It costs 10k som ($1) to enter and no photography is allowed inside the library.
Sample some Uzbek treats at the Chorsu Bazaar
They say to get a real view into the life and culture of a place, you should swing by the local market. Well, this one is the biggest and oldest market in Central Asia. In use since the 9th century, this is the hub of economic activity in Tashkent.
Grab some snacks on the top floor, we bought apricots, nuts, raisins, and figs. Don’t miss the candy section outside either! It’s a great way to sample the national sweets that you don’t often find anywhere else. Try the white halwa or sugar-coated peanuts! There is also a huge amount of fresh produce if you’re after something healthier. Combine a visit to this market with the Kukeldash Madrasah which is behind the complex.
Memorial to the Victims of Political Repression
This memorial celebrates the martyrs who fought to free Uzbekistan from Soviet rule. Much of the repression began in 1860 when the Russian empire waged a war on Central Asia and moved to colonize it, and happened again under Stalinist rule. Unless you can read Russian we don’t recommend going inside the museum, but the grounds around it and the landscaping are beautiful. You can also see views of the Chatkal Mountains lurking in the distance.
Admire modern Islamic architecture at Minor Mosque
This stunning piece of Islamic architecture, inaugurated in 2014, is constructed mostly of shimmering white marble. It stands in stark contrast to the other mosques you will see in Samarkand or Bukhara. It holds up to 2,400 people and is a nice place to see at prayer time in the evening. Unfortunately, they are still not allowing women inside the main hall.
Take a quiet stroll along the Bozsu/Anhor Canal
Walking along the canals in Tashkent is a peaceful way to spend some time. All of the main canals of Tashkent are fed by water from the Chirchik River, a tributary of the Syr Darya. You’ll see the Anhor canal running through the central part of the city.
We walked a section of it behind the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression across from the TV tower, however, the longest section starts near the Minor Mosque. It’s not easy to get lost, just follow the stream. If you ever find yourself here during the winter you might be lucky enough to spot a member of the “walrus club” a local band of swimmers who jumps in the freezing cold canals to toughen up!
Enjoy the greenery at Amir Timur square
Located near the Hotel Uzbekistan this square once contained statues of Lenin and Karl Marx. A new hero replaced those, now that Uzbekistan is no longer under Russian control. Amir Timur, a 14th-century cattle thief turned conqueror and figurehead of the Timurid Empire, whose armies killed up to a fifth of the world’s population at the time on a bloody rampage across Central Asia and into the Middle East.
It’s a nice place for a casual stroll and funny to watch tourists and locals alike posing for pictures with the statue. You can also enter the museum which contains relics from the Timurid Empire if you’re a history buff. The entrance fee is 16k som ($1.70). The interior of the building is impressive indeed.
See Soviet brutalist architecture up close at Hotel Uzbekistan
In Tashkent, there is a lot of old Soviet and Brutalist architecture. One of the most iconic examples of this is the Hotel Uzbekistan. Grab a beer on the top floor for fantastic views over the city and Amir Timur square.
Marvel at the metro stations
It’s the oldest subway system in Central Asia and each station has a different theme. In 1971 construction began, and the metro opened officially in 1977, doubling as a nuclear fallout shelter. The rules in the country are changing rapidly and just recently, they now allow photos in the stations.
Have a look at these stops: Kosmonavtlar, a station famous for portraits of cosmonauts, the Alisher Navoi station (photo above) contains mosque-like architecture, Bodomzor, and Mustakillik Maydoni, which has giant chandeliers hanging from its ceiling.
WHERE TO STAY
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Budget: Trip.LE Guesthouse
Trip.LE guesthouse is located in a cute building 1km from Oybek metro station. The rooms are spacious, the facilities clean, and the breakfast abundant. If you stay 7 combined nights at their location in Tashkent and Samarkand, they’ll give you one night for free.
Mid- Range: Anvar’s Guests
Anvar is the highlight of any stay at this guesthouse. He speaks perfect English (which is so incredibly valuable if you don’t speak Russian) and is very helpful in arranging tickets and giving you recommendations. There is a terrace with a swimming pool and it’s within walking distance to the metro.
High End: Hyatt Regency Tashkent
To start, the Hyatt is in a wonderful location right next to Amir Timur square. There is a beautiful bar on the top floor, an indoor pool, and a spa for an ultimate luxury experience. We had to recommend this one because it was the only place we could find to take out cash. Excellent five-star service at reception.
WHERE TO EAT
Central Asian Plov Centre
Located next to the Tashkent TV tower, this place is an institution and had some of the best plov we tried in Uzbekistan. One of the main attractions of the place is that there’s an outdoor kitchen and anyone can enter to watch the chefs serve up the plov from giant cauldrons. It all sells out later in the afternoon by 2pm so make sure to get there early. If you like lamb this is the place for plov! Try the bread with the “sour milk” (yogurt) and the pickles, it’s a tasty combination. Wash it all down with hot lemon tea! Cash only.
Stop by this beautiful restaurant set in a peaceful courtyard to give your taste buds a sample of the local cuisine. Vegetarians will be happy to know they have plenty of options for you. We really enjoyed the atmosphere, the food is decent, but not out of this world. Try their shivit oshi, somsas, or mushroom soup. They tend to have live national music at night. It’s one of the very few places that accept international credit cards!
“Tandoor” Milliy Taomlar
We went here on our first night in Tashkent and it did not disappoint. Try the dumplings or, if you’re a meat-eater, they have really tasty kebabs and shashlik, the biggest we saw in Uzbekistan. It’s reasonably priced for what you get and our waitress even spoke English!
Don’t skip Tashkent! Spend a day or two wandering around town for a glimpse into modern Uzbekistan. We hope these travel tips and things to do help you make the most of your trip to this capital city!
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